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Women who take oral contraceptives regularly are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to others, shows a study by AIIMS doctors New Delhi, India. Breast cancer risk was found to be 9.5 times more in women with a history of consuming such pills. Early menstruation cycle, late marriage and lower duration of breastfeeding were the other major factors responsible for the disease among Indians, according to the study published in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Cancer.
The study was conducted on 640 women, of which 320 were breast cancer patients. “We found long-term use of oral contraceptive pills (OCP) higher among those suffering from breast cancer-11.9%-compared to healthy individuals-1.2%,” said Dr Umesh Kapil, a professor at the public health nutrition unit, AIIMS. He said breast cancer is caused by repeated exposure of breast cells to circulating ovarian hormones, and long-term use of OCPs, which contain estrogen and progesterone, may be increasing this risk by causing hormonal imbalance.
The study mostly had women who used OCPs for birth control. Emergency contraceptives, popularly called morning-after pills, were not included. Dr Ajeet Singh Bhadoria, a public health specialist and co-author of the study, said that while the use of OCPs for birth control is on the decline, there has been a spike in the use of morning-after pills. “Morning-after pills contain a higher dose of hormones and are meant for emergency. However, many young women use them regularly to prevent pregnancy in case of unprotected sex. Awareness about the side-effects of long-term use is a must,” he said.
Most contraceptive pills, including morning-after pills, are available over the counter. According to experts, regular use of such medication must be avoided or taken under strict medical supervision. An AIIMS study on the profile of patients between 2000 and 2011 found that one in 10 women with breast cancer was less than 35 years of age. Of these, about 73% were between 30 and 35, while 24% were as young as 25-29 years. “The relationship between contraceptive use and occurrence of breast cancer is not known. But there is enough evidence to show the hormonal imbalance caused by them, increasing the risk. Early menarche, late marriage and childbirth and abortions are important factors,” said Dr G K Rath, the head of Bhim Rao Ambedkar Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital (BRA-IRCH).
Early menstruation cycle, doctors say, results in a substantial cumulative exposure to estrogens and the simultaneous presence of progesterone, which increases breast cancer risk. In Delhi, the incidence of breast cancer is 32 per 100,000 people. Data shows 5-10% patients are between the age of 30-35years
Why are the findings from different studies of cell phone use and cancer risk inconsistent?
A limited number of studies have shown some evidence of statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks, but most studies have found no association. Reasons for these discrepancies include the following:
- Recall bias, which may happen when a study collects data about prior habits and exposures using questionnaires administered after disease has been diagnosed in some of the study participants. It is possible that study participants who have brain tumors may remember their cell phone use differently than individuals without brain tumors. Many epidemiologic studies of cell phone use and brain cancer risk lack verifiable data about the total amount of cell phone use over time. In addition, people who develop a brain tumor may have a tendency to recall using their cell phone mostly on the same side of their head where the tumor was found, regardless of whether they actually used their phone on that side of their head a lot or only a little.
- Inaccurate reporting, which may happen when people say that something has happened more or less often than it actually did. People may not remember how much they used cell phones in a given time period.
- Morbidity and mortality among study participants who have brain cancer. Gliomas are particularly difficult to study, for example, because of their high death rate and the short survival of people who develop these tumors. Patients who survive initial treatment are often impaired, which may affect their responses to questions. Furthermore, for people who have died, next-of-kin are often less familiar with the cell phone use patterns of their deceased family member and may not accurately describe their patterns of use to an interviewer.
- Participation bias, which can happen when people who are diagnosed with brain tumors are more likely than healthy people (known as controls) to enroll in a research study. Also, controls who did not or rarely used cell phones were less likely to participate in the Interphone study than controls who used cell phones regularly. For example, the Interphone study reported participation rates of 78 percent for meningioma patients (range 56–92 percent for the individual studies), 64 percent for the glioma patients (range 36–92 percent), and 53 percent for control subjects (range 42–74 percent). One series of Swedish studies reported participation rates of 85 percent in people with brain cancer and 84 percent in control subjects
- Changing technology and methods of use. Older studies evaluated radiofrequency energy exposure from analog cell phones. However, most cell phones today use digital technology, which operates at a different frequency and a lower power level than analog phones. Digital cell phones have been in use for more than a decade in the United States, and cellular technology continues to change. Texting, for example, has become a popular way of using a cell phone to communicate that does not require bringing the phone close to the head. Furthermore, the use of hands-free technology, such as wired and wireless headsets, is increasing and may decrease radiofrequency energy exposure to the head and brain.
3. How is radiofrequency energy exposure measured in epidemiologic studies?
Levels of radiofrequency exposure are indirectly estimated using information from interviews or questionnaires. These measures include the following:
- How “regularly” study participants use cell phones (the minimum number of calls per week or month)
- The age and the year when study participants first used a cell phone and the age and the year of last use (allows calculation of the duration of use and time since the start of use)
- The average number of cell phone calls per day, week, or month (frequency)
- The average length of a typical cell phone call
- The total hours of lifetime use, calculated from the length of typical call times, the frequency of use, and the duration of use
2.What is radiofrequency energy and how does it affect the body?
Radiofrequency energy is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation can be categorized into two types: ionizing (e.g., x-rays, radon, and cosmic rays) and non-ionizing (e.g., radiofrequency and extremely low-frequency or power frequency).
Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from radiation therapy, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk
The only known biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating; however, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature.
A recent study showed that when people used a cell phone for 50 minutes, brain tissues on the same side of the head as the phone’s antenna metabolized more glucose than did tissues on the opposite side of the brain ).noted that the results are preliminary, and from this increase in glucose metabolism are still unknown.
1.Why is there concern that cell phones may cause cancer or other health problems?
There are three main reasons why people are concerned that cell phones (also known as “wireless” or “mobile” telephones) might have the potential to cause certain types of cancer or other health problems:
- Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy (radio waves), a form of non-ionizing radiation. Tissues nearest to where the phone is held can absorb this energy.
- The number of cell phone users has increased rapidly. As of 2010, there were more than 303 million subscribers to cell phone service in the United States, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. This is a nearly threefold increase from the 110 million users in 2000. Globally, the number of cell phone subscriptions is estimated by the International Telecommunications Union to be 5 billion.
- Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. Cell phone technology has also undergone substantial changes.